Chipwrecked and Revamped
Of course, you would expect some animated tweaking for Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. That goes without saying for the third film in the popular franchise. The six chipmunks were in fact completely re-rigged by Rhythm & Hues for faster and better performances. And the lighting was refreshed as well, which was important for major sequences involving a volcano that required its own series of lighting looks.
Likewise, the new director, Mike Mitchell (Shrek Forever After), brought a new sensibility along with the new animation director on the production side, Kevin Johnson (Iron Giant). They wanted to push the mood swings of the characters given the jeopardy of the story, in which they're stranded on an island with a loony treasure seeker and an erupting volcano. They wanted the chipmunks to get angrier, crazier, a bit more depressed and happier when called for.
So there are a lot more environments on this one, ranging from the cruise ship to the ocean to the island's sandy beach and jungle and volcano. And it was pretty active for the VFX and tech crews at Rhythm & Hues. They shot in Hawaii, aboard the Carnival ship and on a Vancouver stage for the jungle scenes (while it was the middle of winter outside).
And because of the location work, there was also a lot more use of 3D matte painting (whose process is called Rampage at Rhythm & Hues).
"This was more of a ray-traced lighting render [project]," suggests Doug Smith, vfx supervisor at R&H. "It's not 100% ray traced, but there is that quality to it. And so it's a huge step undertaken to improve the look of it. And sequence by sequence, quality wise, we were pretty careful to adjust the emotional context that was involved."
Meanwhile, all the animation was done, as usual, with the studio's proprietary Voodoo software with the modeling done in Maya. All the effects work was done in Houdini.
With fur creatures, of course, ray tracing is used sparingly because of its computational expense. However, it's new for the chipmunks because of the naturalistic environments. Rhythm & Hues found that the efficiency was worth the effort and Smith acknowledges that everything is headed in that direction anyway.
"The way it has worked in the past is to have a key animator or group of animators on blend shapes that the rigging can accomplish," Smith adds. "And all these key expressions are set up but the rigging allows it to be hit more rapidly."
Alvin and his friend get particularly unruly aboard the cruise ship where they're skating on suntan lotion on the deck and Alvin slides down a string of lights like a zip line. There's even a section where he rides a water slide with some nice water work in Houdini. They sent a cameraman down a waterslide multiple times shooting in both directions. The stateroom was done on stages in Vancouver, but the movie version looks like a penthouse. One of the best animated scenes occurs when Simon offers Dave some advice about handling Alvin more diplomatically while tying his bowtie. They put a CG bowtie on actor Jason Lee and used multiple mirrors at the same time.